Film Review: “Slapface”

Starring: August Maturo, Mike Manning and Libe Barer
Directed by: Jeremiah Kipp
Rated: NR
Running Time: 85 minutes
Shudder

When we first meet Lucas (Maturo), he and his brother Tom (Manning) are mourning the loss of their mother. To deal with this trauma, and his brother’s trauma as well, Tom forces Lucas to mourn with him via a game called ‘slapface’, which might be exactly what you think it is. The two brothers sit across from each other and slap one another repeatedly, hitting harder as the game goes on.

When the two aren’t physically beating each other in grief, Tom is finding the bottom of a bottle of liquor and Lucas is practicing witchcraft. One of these is not like the other. “Slapface,” a film that took me a while to grasp the concept of, is about Lucas more than it is about Tom. Lucas is not only enduring physical violence at home, but is enduring mental and emotional torture from classmates who bully him as well as the Virago Witch, which he summons into existence.

I say “Slapface” took me a while to grasp the concept because I really wasn’t sure what I was getting from this film. The opening felt silly and I wasn’t quite sure why a prepubescent boy was suddenly dabbling in witchcraft, but this is the kind of film that really hits you over the head before the credits. The Witch itself isn’t scary, but it’s not there to frighten us with cheap jump scares, nor is it there to harm Lucas. The Witch, after being summoned, appears to randomly pop-up when the story calls for it, a hint at what the film is actually trying to say. Like any good dramatic horror movie, the point isn’t to simply scare us and have us move on with our lives, “Slapface” shows us the unfortunate outcome of an extreme situation that can be applied to the real world.

Maturo does an incredible job in the role, showing the wildly high strung emotions that a child his age would go through, sometimes appearing carefree about the events around him while flipping on a dime in a fit of rage or sadness. It’s clear that Lucas isn’t confronting his feelings, instead opting to bottle them up. Even during the game ‘slapface’ he withholds, possibly fearing the aggression and sadness that’s building up inside him. As an actor, Maturo channels that same kind of fear, sadness and frustration we once saw in Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense.” As for everyone else, the acting is fine, but doesn’t stand out as much as Maturo.

While the Virago Witch in “Slapface” is far from unique or creative, what the monster represents is entirely fresh. For those interested in a late night creature feature packed with scares and gore, look elsewhere. For those who want psychological horror, you’ve come to the right place, but prepare yourself for your own slap in the face.

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